Thursday, May 28, 2009

St. Matthew's on the Move

St. Matthew's Lawn Bowling Club

One of the fixtures on Gerrard Street East next to the Don River will soon be no more. The St. Matthew's Lawn Bowling Club is slated to be moved to a new location just around the corner on Broadview Avenue. The move is part of the expansion plans of Bridgepoint Health which was renamed from the old Riverdale Hospital. Bridgepoint wants to build an underground garage where the club building sits now so rather than just demolish it, they decided to move it.

Building has been placed on platform of girders in preparation for move.

The lawn bowling club is a rather non-descript cottage-like building yet it turns out to have a rather storied past. Built in 1906, it is an example of the early 20th century architecture found in the Riverdale neighbourhood. The club lasted for 100 years but with the decline in interest of lawn bowling as a sport the club closed its doors in 2007.

Previously, the place where the building resides was used as a "House of Refuge". In the 19th century it was established as a place for poor and indigent people to receive medical treatment. They paid for their treatment with work. In 1870, a smallpox epidemic hit Toronto and the House of Refuge became a hospital to care for the sick. Over the next 130 years the place transitioned into the old Riverdale Hospital.

Riverdale Hospital got caught up in a binge of hospital restructuring in the 1990s. The result was Bridgepoint Health but that's another story. The real story is what occurred in our past which was rediscovered due to the relocation project. Since the club building was designated as an historic site the move required an archaeological review. The review revealed not only the archival history of the House of Refuge but also physical evidence on site in the form of pottery shards, bits of glass and other discarded objects.

Route to be taken to relocate the building

The relocation itself which is scheduled to happen this weekend, will see the building moved north through an existing parking lot, over a retaining wall and through Riverdale Park to its final resting place next to the southern park entrance on Broadview Avenue. The move necessitated the removal of 11 trees, mostly non-native Austrian Pine and Norway Maple. Once the move is finished these trees will be replaced by higher quality native species such as Red Oak, Silver Maple, and Trembling Aspen.

View of Riverdale Park East, looking north along the relocation path.

I don't have any information on what's happening with the building after the move but it would be nice to have it restored and turned into a local museum which could then showcase some of the history of the Riverdale's past. You can find more information about the project on the city's website.

Informational sign about project including picture of what the new location will look like.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Turtle Encounter

Eastern Painted Turtle (Chrymemus picta picta)

I am working outdoors this summer doing much the same work I have been doing for the past ten years at volunteer outings. This time I am getting paid for it. It's hard, physical work but I enjoy it because it is satisfying work. This week I was working in Taylor Creek Park finishing off a volunteer planting that was poorly attended due to a heavy rainstorm. The location is a popular place for dog walkers and cyclists so we had lots of company while we worked. One of the passersby surprised us because she was carrying a turtle. It was an Eastern Painted Turtle which she had affectionately named Franklin.

Her story was that she had owned it for about a month and had been in someone else's possession for about a year. It had been picked up from a road location unknown but presumably in the local region. She had decided that it was time to release it back into the wild and had come down to the park to find a place for it. She had tried to place it in the creek but she said that it didn't seem to like it much. It's good that she decided against leaving the turtle in the creek since it is such a polluted mess.

I advised her that the best place to let it go was one of the ponds on the Goulding Estate. There is now considerable habitat for creatures such as turtles. The new ponds may eventually become a place to dump Red-eared Sliders so the addition of a native breed can only be a good thing. The woman walked off with the turtle so I have no way of knowing whether she released it since she seemed quite attached to it. I will certainly keep an eye out for it since I am leading a Community Stewardship team at the Goulding ponds this summer.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Trilliums: Another Spring Wildflower

White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum), in Moccasin Trail Park

I took this photo this past weekend. These specimens are slightly worse for wear, possibly having been browsed by deer. According to Wikipedia, which has quite a good article on this particular species, the seeds are spread by both deer and ants. Seed dispersal by ants is fairly common with other spring wildflowers such as Bloodroot but trilliums are also the favourite food of deer. Deer may eat the plants but spread the seeds after travelling through their gut and being excreted. Ant dispersal may be up to 10m away but deer dispersal could be up to 1 km away.

The trillium is Ontario's provincial flower and an oft-quoted myth is that it is illegal to pick them. While untrue it does in some small way protect them from exploitation. However it doesn't stop some people from digging them up for their gardens such as is shown by this fellow who I caught stealing some from the nearby forest.

Fortunately trilliums are not endangered and there are still many patches throughout the Don, not only in its white form but also red and red/white. As with any native plants, my advice is to take only photos and leave the wild plants to their wild home... in the Don.

Look closely. The bag in this guy's left hand contains a couple of trilliums, plus soil. This guy gets negative karma points.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Police Patrols in Crothers' Woods

Toronto Police patrol in Crothers' Woods

I was going through Crothers' Woods on Sunday when I heard the sound of motorized vehicles. My first thought was dirt bikes but when I came around a corner I was surprised to find these two gentlemen on ATVs. I chatted with them briefly and they were nice enough to let me take their photo. While I fully support the police's interest in patrolling trails in the Don, I think it would be more appropriate for them to travel by bicycle. Hopefully they will listen to reason.

Another police patrol, this time on the Belt Line trail at the foot of Mud Creek, Sept. 2005.

Monday, May 18, 2009

More Deer

If you want to see some great deer pictures, check out Beechwood Wetland Blog. I've seen them myself several times over the past couple of years, both living and dead but Marnie's encounter was up close and personal.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Before and After

Lower Don Valley, 1931

Lower Don Valley, 2009

I love before and after pictures. They can graphically portray places that have undergone some changes. Usually these changes are minor such as before and after a tree planting but sometimes you can do this over a longer span of time, if the pictures are available. There is an interesting blog that I follow called Toronto Before that shows archival photos from Toronto's past and places them beside a current photo. This is not so easy to do with the Don Valley since there are not that many photos available. Of the collections available there aren't that many interesting photos.

However, I did come across a photo of the Don Valley taken in 1931. The photographer was standing at the edge of the valley just south of Pottery Road looking west across the valley towards the Don Valley Brick Works. You can clearly see three chimneys labelled "DON" "VALLEY", and "BRICK". The fourth one reading "WORKS" is not in the camera shot.

The CN rail line is visible curving under the CP bridge which is still standing. A small road travels from the Brick Works to Todmorden Mills crossing the river at a single lane bridge.

The landscape in the foreground is quite remarkable. The time of year is not available but I am guessing sometime early in the year maybe March or April. The picture may portray an early spring flood since the river has overflowed its banks in a couple of places. It's hard to tell from a black and white photo but the valley looks like a blighted landscape. Only a few scraggly trees struggle to survive interspersed with mud flats and barren fields.

Unsuccessful attempt to duplicate same viewpoint as 1931 photo

Given this intriguing photo I tried to duplicate it. I attempted to stand in the same place as the original photographer but the view is blocked by a stand of trees which are now the top edge of the Todmorden Mills forest preserve.

The best I could do was to stand on Pottery Road where I could get an unobstructed view across the valley. Today's valley is much different than the one that existed 78 years ago. In the interim, the Don Valley Parkway was constructed. In this section the river was straightened into its current channel. The meandering section that flowed south of Todmorden Mills was cutoff. This now exists as an artificially created oxbow pond. Bayview Avenue was extended after WWII replacing the dirt road. The bridge in the old photo is still standing but is now only used to access a parking lot behind Todmorden Mills.

The mudflats beside the river have been replaced by a forest. Some of the trees are so big that you might think that the forest is much older but the evidence shows that this is a more recent addition.

The bridge from the 1931 photo that crossed the Don River. Today the bridge is isolated from the river. It is in very poor shape and is scheduled to be torn down as part of a refurbishment of facilities at Todmorden Mills that will take place in the next year or two.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Marsh Marigold

Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris), seen in Taylor Creek Park

Marsh Marigold is another early spring flowering plant. It is not classified as an ephemeral, since it is found in swampy ground rather than as forest understory. It likes damp conditions and can be found on the banks of small streams and in swampy ground. The flower has no petals. The showing yellow petals are actually sepals or modified leaves.

Marsh Marigold is quite a common plant and can be found everywhere in the northern hemisphere. However, there are many varieties. Until recently it was identified as separate species before studies showed that the plant is highly adaptable to local conditions.

According to Wetland Plants of Ontario, all parts of the plant contain toxic chemicals called helleborin and protoanemonin. These can cause mild skin irritation and in some severe cases heart palpitations. So it's OK to take photos but don't try to pick it.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Good Turnout for 1st Pedal the Don

Bikers passing by in Sunnybrook park

I participated in the the first ever Pedal the Don event on Sunday May 3. While Paddle the Don which was happening at the same time is into its 16 year, this is the first time someone has organized a bicycle event for the same day. By all accounts it was a success with over 50 riders and two roller bladers participating. Here are a few shots from the event. More pictures are available on the event website.

First rest stop in Wilket Creek park

Another rest stop by Beechwood Wetland

Friday, May 01, 2009

First Native of Spring

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis). Note the ubiquitous Garlic Mustard (Allaria petiolata) sprouting beside it to the lower right.

Not really true since the Skunk Cabbage have come and gone but it is one of the showiest native flowering plants to appear this spring. Bloodroot belongs to the spring ephemeral category of plants, which means they appear for a short time on the forest floor before the trees above leaf out and block the sunlight. I have found that Bloodroot has one of the shortest flowering cycles of all the ephemerals, here one week, gone the next.

Bloodroot has some interesting characteristics, not the least of which is its seed dispersal method. This is performed by the exotic sounding scientific term, myrmecochory. To the non-scientist this just means dispersed by ants. The seeds have a fleshy appendage which the ants eat after taking them into their ant warren. Later on the seeds germinate and up comes a new Bloodroot plant.

For the next couple of weeks you can get out and enjoy some of the other spring ephemerals such as Trillium, Trout Lily, Virginia Waterleaf, and Wild Geranium.